Etiquette in different cultures

I read a little in a book called Behave Yourself!: The Essential Guide to International Etiquette. It’s about etiquette in different countries in the world, with some advice about how to act in different social situations or how not to act. It takes up things like meeting and greeting, conversation, eating and drinking, out and about, dress and lastly gifts and tips.

Here’s a few things I read about Swedish etiquette that I think are more or less on the spot correct:

  • It’s very important to be punctual. You should come exactly on time to a meeting, not 5 minutes early or late.
  • Greet someone by shaking hands (both men and women) and have eyecontact. Also say hello to the staff when entering a shop or restaurant.
  • Swedish people say “thank you” very often. (Yes we sure do, especially in a situation like shopping)
  • Swedes are not very fond of body contact so keep your distance and avoid physical expressions when communicating. (Maybe less true for the younger generation who have started to hug and do cheek kisses as a greeting)
  • Speak calmly and well-formulated, you will rarely hear people raise their voice in Sweden.
  • Always be straight and honest. Don’t exaggerate and don’t promise anything you can’t stand by.
  • When you want to make a toast, say cheers (skål in Swedish), look everyone in the eyes, drink and look everyone in the eyes again before putting the glass down.
  • Always take off your shoes when entering the home of a Swedish person.
  • It’s illegal to hit your children (corporal punishment in english?), instead Swedes reason with their children and strongly belive it’s the right way.
  • It’s common to bring a small gift when visiting someones home.

The book seems to get things right most of the time, there were a few things that I would say are half true but not important enough to put in a book. The ones I think is most important to know about when either talking to swedish people or visiting Sweden are…

The point about being punctual. It can’t be stressed enough how important that is here in Sweden. We value our time and see people who are late for a meeting (business, dinner party, meeting friends etc) as being very rude. I’ve heard of people who were meeting a friend and when the friend had not shown up 15 minutes after the apponted time (and they hadn’t called) the friend who were waiting left. I know that many other cultures are more laid back about time but don’t make that mistake if you’re in Sweden.

Be honest and straight forward about things, don’t eggagerate or promise things you don’t intend to keep. We like to belive in what people say so that’s why it’s important to be honest with Swedes. If you promise something or say you’ll do a certain thing we expect you to do it. That’s also why we Swedes might sound a bit vague sometimes. If we are not sure we can keep a promise we usually think it’s better to not make the promise from the start.

The third thing that’s important to know about Sweden, espcially if you’re planning to visit or move here with your family, is that it’s illegal to hit children or give any kind of corporal punishment. Sweden was the first country in the world that banned all kind of corporal punishments for children (both in school and at home) in 1979. It’s something very important to us and we do belive that it’s wrong to treat children like that and people reason with their children instead. It might take a little longer time but at least no one gets hurt in the process. It’s a good thing to know about these rules because there was an indicent this summer that got on the news everywhere: a family were visiting (from Italy) Stockholm, a boy didn’t want to do what the parents told him so the father lift him up from the ground in his hair. This happened out in public so several people called the police who came there and arrested the father. Not a good way to spend the vacation, but if you’re in Sweden you have to respect these rules.

These kind of simple etiquette tips can be very useful and even though they are a generalisation about a culture some things might be true and knowing the etiquette of a culture or country can be helpful in some situations even if it can’t always be applied. Sadly this book didn’t have a section on Nepali culture, otherwise that would have been interesting to read. Any of you readers have any useful insights about Nepali etiquette and do’s and dont’s? Please share them with me in the comments, I’d love to hear some! 🙂


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